Written with permission, this is the prequel to Becky Tailweaver's highly acclaimed "I'm Already There".  ~_^  Obviously, since I'm not Becky and am nowhere near her skill (don't I wish), this won't have the same "voice" as her stuff will and is obviously inferi—er, not the same.  ducks smunks by certain people—you know who you are!  =P  Can't say I didn't try though, right?

Anyway, my most sincere thanks to Becky (obviously), for both lending me her plot and acting as beta-reader, as well as Ysabet, Icka, Magik, Loqi, Ann, and whoever else I missed (I'm sorry!) who helped me with this and gave much-appreciated encouragement.  All characters and recognizable places belong to Aoyama Gosho; plot devices to Becky Tailweaver.  Song credits: "When You Think of Me" by Mark Wills, altered to fit the (ridiculously) long length of this.  Enjoy!

When You Think of Me

The morning dawn was crisp, the breeze stirring the leaves of trees so that it looked like they waved to him as he hurried by.  The stars had begun their retreat into the heavens, and the golden glory that was the morning sun peeked through the mountaintops to beam down at him, illuminating the cotton balls of clouds floating by like tinted marshmallows above him.

Shinichi hated it.

How dare it? he raged to the uncaring heavens silently.  How dare it be so clear and bright on a day like this?

There was a dull ache in his bones, slowly building to a deadly burning peak that signalled the limit of the cursed drug he had ate, but he didn't care.  He couldn't care.  The biological clock was ticking, signalling how limited his freedom was, but right now, it didn't matter how he'll end up.  Borrowed time, that was all he was living on…Kudo Shinichi had died the day Edogawa Conan was born.

And Edogawa Conan had been alive for a very long while…

But tonight had been the last straw.  What little part of Shinichi's soul that still lived had died this night…when he left her behind…

You look so peaceful sleepin',

You don't know that I'm leaving, but I'm gone.

Oh, I did my best to beat 'em, but in my head, the demon said, "Move on."

*          *          *          *          *

There had been no warning.  None.  It was a storm of events, one after another, so fast that even the Great Detective of the East had no idea how to react; so fast that the already-twisted tangle of his life became an absolute hurricane whose destruction would never be repaired.

She had just left, no warning, no goodbye, no sign at all.  Haibara Ai had vanished inexplicably, without even the smallest sign that she had ever been there—it was like the reborn Miyano Shiho had never existed.  No one knew why, not even Agasa.  Everyone was devastated, and a widespread search had been conducted.  But nothing ever turned up.

The only proof that Haibara Ai had even existed was a single capsule of the phoney cure sitting on her desk, waiting for him.

It was over, he had known.  She wouldn't have left if the situation had not called for it, and despite all her actions otherwise, she was afraid of death…or what they could do to make death seem inviting.  So she left.

And that capsule—had it been a peace offering; a last gift?

Or the remains of the curse she had helped to create?

The next weeks after her departure had been absolute hell.  There was the fear, the dread, the panic…because they knew.  They knew very well, or else Haibara wouldn't have left.  And he had spent every minute of those weeks jumping at shadows, paranoia seeping from every pore.  "There is naught to fear but fear itself," was a quote he had heard from somewhere, but Them…they not only imposed fear, they were fear itself…

And when it became too much, when he finally couldn't stand it anymore, there was nothing he could do.  Hattori had tried his best to help, but even he can only do so much…and he sure as hell couldn't make Haibara come back, or make them disappear forever…

When it was too much, there was nothing he could do but curl into a ball in his futon and cry, trying not to let Ran or Kogoro hear him.

It was not a way for any human to live.

And Ran…

You wake up you're gonna curse my name.

But as some time goes by I hope and pray.

Mouri Ran was not faring any better than he was, in any way.  She had never known; he took great pains in ensuring that…but the only two stable pillars in her life, Shinichi and Conan, were falling or already had fallen apart.  The shadows in her blue eyes, the haunted look that must've perfectly complemented the hunted one in his own…

It was enough to make the very last of his defences shatter.

He couldn't go on.  It was too much…too much for even he to handle.  And he knew Kudo Shinichi was dead.

But the cure…

Would it be so bad to see her, see them all again as himself, one last time?

When you think of me,

Remember the way that I used to be.

Remember the times I held you, tenderly.

Remember the way that I love you.

The phone rang its jarring rings on her father's desk, the receiver practically jumping from its cradle at its almost sentient effort to make herself heard.  With a heavy, depressed sigh, Ran reached over to pick it up.  "Moshi-moshi, Mouri Detective—"

"Ran?"

Her breath stopped in her throat as she very nearly dropped the plate she had been holding, recognizing the voice immediately but not daring to believe it.  It was the voice she heard in every dream, and the one time he returned to her was like a dream—a mist, a puff of smoke that blew away like the last of her hopes.  She couldn't believe it, because she didn't dare, didn't dare to hope—

"Shinichi?"

There was something rough about his voice, about how he gulped something down before he spoke again, in a shaky near-whisper.  "Yeah…it's me."

The façade she made for everyone, including herself, slipped and shattered on the floor like the plate that finally fell from her hands.  "Shinichi—God Shinichi, where have you been?!  I started thinking you were dead, you selfish, arrogant, conceited baka!!"  Her voice was shaking, just like the rest of her, and her voice cracked uncontrollably, her tears and emotions pushing her far past any care of saying anything incriminating.  "Dammit Shinichi, where—"

"Ran…I'm coming home."

Her heart froze in mid-beat and jumped up her throat, evaporating her anger and throwing her mind into a loop of emotions.  She tried to calm down, tried to tell herself that he wasn't, tried that she was hearing things, trying to tell her already-broken heart that if he had ever cared he wouldn't have left her to wait like this, but she couldn't stop the small spark of hope that flared at his words.  "Shinichi…?"

"I…"  She wasn't dreaming; his voice was rough, hoarse and almost broken-sounding, and if she didn't know better she would've sworn he was crying.  "I know it's really short notice, but…but would you mind meeting me?  Just to—so I can see you—"

—one last time…

Ran's face split into a wide smile of delight through her tears; the widest, she felt, since the day Shinichi had left.  "I—you're coming back, Shinichi?"

"I…yeah…"

"Give me twenty minutes," she promised, hope and longing and a wild, giddy joy blossoming in her heart.  "I'll see you then…and Shinichi?" she added, in a second of shy yet bold joy.

"Yeah?"

"A-aishiteru."  And before he could splutter an answer Ran hastily hung up with a heavy click, not daring to hear his reply.

He stared at the dead receiver in his hands droning a dull, steady monotone—the familiar payphone receiver he had used so many times as Conan and the familiar monotone he had heard so many times when phoning her.  The thrill had been evident in her voice when he'd said he was coming home, yet each was only another arrow through his heart.  And her last words…

She had not stayed on the line long enough to hear his reply.

I…I love you too, Ran…but you might be better off if I were gone…

He gazed across the street where Ran's silhouette had shown a few seconds before, and an elated pain pierced through his already fragile heart yet again.  Unwillingly, he sank to the floor of the booth, crumpling in a joyful, agonized heap, and for a while nothing but his muffled sobs were heard.

Twenty minutes.  He had twenty minutes to make the sweet, torturous walk across that familiar street.

The walk of eternity could not have been longer.

I think about the night I met you, I swore I'd never forget you, well I won't.

With shaking hands, he rang her doorbell, blinking back the hot tears that threatened to flood his view.  Familiar footsteps, achingly familiar footsteps, thumped inside the house as a predictable someone dashed across the room and threw open the door.

"Shinichi…"  The sparkle in her blue eyes said what inadequate words could never say.

Ran, his mind whispered as his mouth refused to work, just staring at the angel in front of him.  Ran…

The brain and sharp wit he was so famous for had abruptly froze on him; he could do nothing but stare at her, drinking in the sight of her like a dying man in the desert.  Him, staring; her, smiling…

I think about the way you'll live and breathe,

Inside my dreams forever;

Ran…

Then, without a word his arms reached out, and as stiffly as a robot he wrapped them around her and hugged her tight like he could never let go, like there was no tomorrow…

Because for him, there wasn't.

Ran started slightly when she felt the tears dripping silently from his face onto her blouse, but she ignored the feeling as she herself was brimming with her own tears.  As if of their own accord, her arms went around his shoulders and hugged him back in full measure, the dam of tears she had blinked back over the past year finally finding release.

With a choked cry of "Shinichi—!!" the floodgates opened in full measure and soon they were both crying silently, hugging each other in a tight embrace that neither was willing to be the first to let go…

Above them on the second floor, the curtains stirred as Mouri Kogoro watched the couple, a speculative look in his black eyes as he chewed on his cigar.

~*~*~*~*~

The rest of the day whirled by like the chaos that was now his life, but it had been different—for one day, he was free; free from the clutches of paranoia and fear and free from the child-prison that was Conan.  For one day, he was himself, he was with Ran, and that was all that mattered to him now.

He knew it wouldn't last, that he would only get 24 hours, if that; and that this would only hurt more when he finally leaves for good, but this was the act of a desperate man—one who would take a deadly drug to numb himself to the pain even if it'll hurt more after it's gone…

One who would do anything to lessen the pain, if only for a little while; even if it'll only come back tenfold and worse than ever before.

He didn't even protest when Ran said she wanted to go to Tropical Land.  There was something poetically ironic about that, he supposed, going back to the place where it all began…but this was the Last Day, and he just didn't have the heart to deny Ran anything.  The way she sparkled when she was happy, when her eyes shone like stars…for that he could stand everything, anything, if only for her sake.

Hand in hand, they entered the gate, back to the place where it all began…

Like the time before, Shinichi took her to all the exact same places…up to the tower where they gazed at the world through binoculars, on the Mystery Coaster where everything began, to the gift of a rainbow among the fountains that they now gave to each other…

It was like having his life all over again.

Sipping the cokes he bought for the two of them—just like on that day, in chilled cans and ready to serve—Shinichi eyed Ran out of the corner of his eye.  Her face was flushed with exertion, and her eyes just shone so, gazing at him shyly over the top of her pop can…

He downed the rest of his drink in one swallow, crushing the can in his hand…and in that moment, he swore to himself that a thousand screams and a thousand murders alike—no matter what the situation, he was not going to leave Ran's side.  Nothing was tearing them apart today.

Not even Them.

*          *          *          *          *

The morning was brighter now, and the starlit dawn had faded almost entirely from view, leaving only streaks of navy blue on the horizon.  His limbs were burning now instead of the previous dull ache, burning with a fierce, molten fire; there was grey steam all over the place and he could've sworn he just saw part of his flesh running up and down his arm like liquid wax but his vision was so blurry he couldn't be sure, and he hurt all over and there was a ball of iron rolling around in the pit of his stomach and oh, how he just hurt…

His vision was blurring, whether from the effects of the drug or of his own tears, he didn't know and couldn't care less.  The last day, the last night that Kudo Shinichi will ever walk the earth…and this time, Edogawa Conan wouldn't be left behind.

Now, that one spark of soul left to him would burn out like a flickering candle in the wind, and even Conan would be empty…

The shine of a star in full glory had been destroyed by one night's mistake, simply disappearing without impact unlike most dying supernovas…and it took very little to snuff out what tiny spark that remained.

Kudo Shinichi was dead.

He tripped over his own foot and landed hard on the floor, the world swirling together until he couldn't tell up from down.  The professor's house was dark and lonely, just like his heart…Agasa had probably gone off to look for Haibara Ai again.  He was rather attached to that woman-turned-little-girl…

Just as well; his pride wouldn't let him be seen by someone like this.

Not that pride had gotten him very far.

"I'm sorry, Ran," he whispered as the last of his vision dimmed to black.  "I said I wouldn't leave…I said nothing would tear us apart…"

But I guess I didn't account for me.

You'll be better when I'm gone, you'll be better when I'm gone.

'Cause I know you're gonna fall in love again.

I'm sorry this is how it has to end.

*          *          *          *          *

Nightfall, sparkling lights, the lingering memory of a day soon to be left behind.  Hand in hand, Shinichi and Ran walked down the street, surprisingly without a word.  Both had words that they wanted to say to each other, but neither wanted to ruin this moment with truth and lies.  Call it stalling if you must, but for now, they were content to walk side by side and share silent feelings…because talk would inevitably raise issues between them—issues that have never and will never be smoothed over, issues between them that would lead to questions, answers, demands, excuses…

Coming from the direction of Tropical Land, they reached Shinichi's house first…not Ran's house that Conan lived in, but Shinichi's house; a house that had been free of inhabitants for over a year, save for Yukiko and Yuusaku's infrequent visits to Beika.

A house that was as empty as its owner's soul.

Stopping at the steps of a house he had long ago forgotten, Shinichi simply let himself stand still and stare at it—at all the little things, the details that even his eye managed to miss, the little flaws here and there that gave it a certain charm; like the paint peeling at the edges of the door, the way the name plate that bore his family name, "Kudo," was chipped and the kanji handwritten by his father had started to fade into grey, the way his bedroom curtains were drawn across the window just so

Even the overgrown weeds seemed welcoming, in their own odd way.

Behind him, watching him quietly but with an intensity in her gaze that would've impressed even Shinichi, Ran put her "thinking cap" on, so to speak, and tried to figure out this boy—this man—that she loved so much (and she wasn't ashamed to admit it—embarrassed maybe, but definitely not ashamed).  There was something about him, something different…of course, Shinichi has always been somewhat different, somewhat better than the norm, but that wasn't it.  It was something about the way he held himself, no longer smooth and sure like the cocky yet capable man she knew and loved, but unsure and nervous—nervous, of all things.  Shinichi was never nervous.

And the quiet, almost numb way he was acting, he was moving…there was something strange about him, all right.  There was a dark look about his features, like a terrible pain he was pitting himself against and trying to keep from her…

Around them, the atmosphere chilled from contentment to suspicion, evasiveness evident in the air.

That's what she thought, anyway.  But she had asked him repeatedly during their trip back, and he kept stolidly to himself and tight-lipped in a way she had never seen before, clamming up so badly that he flat-out ignored her when she asked, which really hurt her.  She was only trying to help…but then again, Kudo Shinichi was not a being that needed much help usually.

And, she reminded herself, I have been known to go off on wild tangents.  Mouri Ran was not a particularly stupid girl—if anything, all the years she had spent with Tactical Genius Kudo Shinichi and his Even More of A Tactical Genius father, Kudo Yuusaku, had given her a remarkable ability of deduction and intelligence to prove the contrary.  Yet she had been noted for paranoia and crazy thoughts before, such as Shinichi actually being Conan, for one.

But still…

Is Shinichi…lying…to me?

The two figures were still in the mist, both being as still as statues carved of stone, the young woman standing there and waiting as the youth radiated tension from every pore, purposely not looking at her.

And around them, the night continued falling.

The bleak air around them thickened like the rolling fog, coming in waves and swallowing the two in its merciless tides.  Ran knew now without a doubt that something was up—that despite the way he upheld the truth, despite his very apparent hatred of lies, Kudo Shinichi was hiding something from her.

And Mouri Ran did not like it.  For someone that blatantly trumpeted the motto "Shinjitsu wa itsumo hitotsu—there is only one truth," all over the place, it was rather…hypocritical of him.

Normally she would've karate-chopped him until she got the answer, and she had half a mind to do just that right now.  But tonight—tonight had been so wonderful…he had, finally, after God-knows-how-long, came home.  She was tired of the silence that formed a wall between them, tired of the evasiveness that he harboured even on this day, but he'd tried—for the whole afternoon, save for his occasional slip into his own little world, she had his full, undivided attention.  And she couldn't bring herself to yell at him…not tonight.  Not when the breeze was so light, the stars twinkling above, the air smelling so sweet…not when the night was so right.

So, instead of the air of a soldier preparing to do battle that she normally would have harboured, she merely walked over softly and tapped him gently on the shoulder.  "Shinichi—are you alright?"

He looked back at her from the corner of one eye as he turned his head slightly; apparently her words had woken him from his bleak trance in his own little world, but not enough to be back to reality.  He turned, just enough so that he could see her before he averted his gaze again, suddenly finding the weeds enveloping his shoes very interesting.

The cool night breeze strengthened slightly, blowing her dark brown hair into a silken wave billowing about her face.  And with her heart-shaped face and sweet, open, concerned expression, Shinichi thought that he had never seen anything more beautiful than this angel in front of him.

It only made him love her all the more…and the thought that tonight was the last time—the Last Day—was an invisible knife in his heart, twisting and turning until it made the biggest wound possible.

Oh, how he wanted to just reach over and hold her in his arms and never let her go…but he couldn't.  He could barely keep his tears back, his masks on, but he had to; because this was the time when composure was everything.  Because he was going tonight.

But it'll be the hardest thing to walk away without looking back…and he'd bet that it would hurt a hell lot more than those damned transformations ever did.

By all rights, he should've pretending to hate her, hurting her, making her angry and exploiting all her emotional vulnerabilities until she hated him with every last fibre of her being, until she couldn't even think of him or hear his name without karate-chopping everything within a 5-mile-radius, all so she can forget him…but he couldn't do that.  Not only could he not bear the thought of ever hurting her, but if what she felt for him was anything like what he felt for her, she would never forget.

Because he'd never forget either…and the hurting would only hurt more, because she could never let him go.

Just as he can't let her go.

But when you think of me, remember the way that I used to be.

Remember the times I held you, tenderly.

Remember the way that I love you.

Ran was still looking at him like that, head tilted slightly to one side and this curious, inquisitive look on her face…but unlike normal times, she didn't push.  He knew it wasn't because she had changed—she was still the same Ran that he had fallen in love with—but for tonight, she respected his secrets even if she didn't like it.  Because if she asked and pried when he didn't want her to, they'd argue, and they'd ruin tonight, their perfect night, their Last Night…

 And her consideration and respect only made what was to come hurt even more, because she never hurt him—was only kind and wonderful and Ran to him, even when he was Conan—and he had to pay her back by hurting her…

But he'd do it.  She might hate him for it, or she might not, but he would still love her no matter what.

And if this was what he had to do to keep her safe, then he could make the sacrifice.

Because really, she was all that mattered to him now.

 "Ran…we have to talk."

Ran started sharply; just those five words were enough to yank her from her cocoon of bliss and back into the real world of pain—a real world where he was being strange and evasive and bleak on what should by all rights be their Perfect Night.

Alarm and concern flooded her like a tide; Ran was not stupid, and though she was just a little naïve in the world of adult romance, she knew enough from Sonoko's gossip to know that everything that started with that sentence was a good cause to worry.  Nothing good had ever come of the sentence "we have to talk," not now, not ever.  Nobody had ever said, "We have to talk.  You just won the lottery,"  or "We have to talk.  Let's get married."  Nope; "we have to talk" was usually reserved for something shocking, something drastic, but never anything good.

She had the feeling that this would be no exception.  The sickening dread in her heart killed her previous cheer like a bucket of ice water would and changed it into worried concern…and maybe just the slightest bit of fear.  "S-Shinichi…?"

The youth shook his head, something unreadable in his eyes darkening his expression as he held open the door.  "Inside."

Ran complied wordlessly, stepping inside the house that was nearly as familiar as her own as Shinichi closed the door behind him.  Nodding at her to follow, he lead the way past the stairs and into the living room, where he suddenly plunked heavily down onto the sofa and stared blankly at the wall, as evasive and quiet as he had been outside.

"Shinichi?"  Slipping into the empty spot beside him, she peered at him in concern, reaching over to feel his forehead.  "Are you sick?"

Shinichi batted the hand away listlessly, slumped sideways on the couch, his lifeless stance not in the least bit like the ramrod-straight, alert posture that the Kudo Shinichi she knew from a year ago would sport.  And she knew something was wrong.

"Shinichi?  What's wrong?"  Aside from concern, her trembling voice was beginning to hold a noticeable amount of fear.  "You're not usually like this—are you sure you're not sick?  I can call a doctor if you want—"

"No…no doctor.  Please."  I can't go to a doctor for blood testing or whatever, Ran, even if I wanted to—if they find traces of that apotoxin in me, we're all dead…but you are right, Ran.  I am sick…terribly, terribly homesick…

Dammit—why can't this just be OVER?!  Haven't they done enough…?!

Of course he couldn't say that, and somehow he brightened his voice slightly, just enough to sound somewhat cheerful as he valiantly tried to straighten his posture so she won't think anything was wrong…but inside, his heart was shattering.  "See?  I'm fine."

"If you say so," Ran said doubtfully as she took in his haggard expression.  "But Shinichi…you really don't look okay…"

I'm not okay.  I've never been okay…not after that night at Tropical Land…

"I'm fine," his mouth said of its own accord.  "Really."

"All right…but Shinichi?  Whatever you want to say to me—tell me later, okay?"  Ran gripped one of his hands in hers, a gentle smile spreading on her face even as she flushed red.  "You don't look your best right now, no matter what you say…and since you're finally back home from that silly case of yours, we've got all the time in the world…"

Shinichi's heart was beginning to break again, taking the rest of his shattered defences with it as he fought not to cry.  I don't have all the time in the world, Ran…I only have tonight…

Ran was still chattering away in an unconscious imitation of Sonoko at her finest, not noticing that Shinichi was no longer paying attention.  "…and I hope you're ready for school, Shinichi; our new teacher is a real slavedriver and she sure won't cut you any slack no matter what you say—"

"I'm not going to school."

Ran jerked upright, eyes wide, her litany of what had happened in school during the past year breaking off abruptly as she stared at him in shock.  "What?  What do you mean you're not going to school tomorrow?  A year's worth of stuff isn't easy to catch up on, you—"

"I'm not going to school, Ran."  For her sake and his own, Shinichi tried to steady his own voice but only succeeded in making it not crack as badly.  "I won't be here at all."

"But—where will you be going then?"  Ran's voice had sharpened with an edge of dismay as she stared wide-eyed at him.  "You—"

"I'm…going back to America."  It was the only thing he could tell her, the only thing that even sounded like it had a remote chance of being plausible.  All throughout the day he had tried to devise clever excuses about why he still wouldn't be back to stay and discarded them all, each one flimsier than the last.  Even this one was no better than his original "I'm-out-on-a-case-don't-wait-up-for-me-Ran" one, and he looked away, unable to look squarely at her betrayed eyes—the ones that burned the word 'traitor' into the very core of his being.  "There's—there's this Mafia case that I'm going to work on with the FBI, and I'll be working to stop terrorists and gangsters and protecting children…"  He trailed off at the leaden silence and finally looked back at her, immediately wishing he hadn't as he saw the look on Ran's face: wide-eyed and brimming with tears.

Oh, when you think of me…

After a long silence, Ran found her voice again, shaking and laced with betrayal.

"Why?" she whispered, hurt and angry and most of all, grieving.  "Why are all these things so important to you?  Why do you have to leave again so soon—Shinichi, you just came home…!"

"I know…Ran, I wish…"  He trailed off painfully, closing his eyes and never opening them in the manner of a child, like if he shut his eyes and wished really really hard then this would all disappear and it wouldn't be real and all the pain would go away…

He didn't even flinch when Ran grasped one of his hands in both her own and squeezed it, tight.

"Refuse," she pleaded.  "Can't you say no?  Can't you—can't you stay here?

"Can't you come home for good?"

"I…I can't…"

"Why?"

He knew she was going to ask that, and yet she knew that he couldn't answer.  The betrayed look was enough—she knew he wasn't going to say, otherwise he would've done so already.

"Ran…I wish…I just wish…"  His composure was slipping, sliding off like so many false masks—masks he donned but were so easily destroyed by human emotions…

They laid like that for a while, leaning against each other and crying softly—or valiantly holding the tears back in Shinichi's case, though his eyes blurred so much with tears he wondered how long he could hold this—before he knew he had to do it.

He had to do it—he had to end this right now, right now.  He had to let her go.

Because it wouldn't be fair for her to keep waiting for someone who would never walk this world again.

As I pick up these bags and turn around

"R-Ran…?"

Another sniffle; the tearstained face against his shoulder looked up hopefully.  "Yeah?"

He flinched at the hopeful look in her eyes, because he knew and she knew that he was going to leave…perhaps forever.  And he knew that as each second went by, he was breaking her heart a little more.

He couldn't severe the red thread that bound them together, whether he wanted to or not.  And perhaps that's what made it hurt the most.

"C-can you come with me for a sec?  Just up to my room…I…I have something for you…"

There was a sudden sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach at those words, as her heart realized what that might mean, but at the pained look in his eyes Ran nodded, finally lifting herself from that couch and suddenly feeling very old…

She was so tired of secrets.  But they would never end.

And that in itself was probably one of life's greatest eccentricities.

Shinichi took her hand as he went up the stairs and gripped it tightly as he walked the seemingly-eternal walk to his bedroom, trying to memorize the feeling of her soft flesh against his and the warmth of her skin that could somehow dispel the coldness that he could feel in his heart right now…  He tried to memorize it, tried to program every feeling and sensation he was feeling into his long-term memory so that he'll always have it with him, forever and ever…

Because this was The Last Day…and their last goodbye.

I say a little prayer and hope somehow:

As Ran walked beside him, eyes filled with bravely-held-back tears, he felt another crack go through his mask of calm lies…

He didn't know how much longer he could stand lying to her.

They were in his room now, sitting on the bed together, and the sight of Ran's tears mingled with his own pain to form a burning, throbbing ache somewhere deep in his heart, and he could barely hold himself together even though he knew he had to…

Ran was crying again, curling into a ball at the head of his bed and clenching his pillow tightly to her—a pillow, he remembered, that accompanied a bed he had not slept in for years.

"Can't you stay, Shinichi?" she all but begged him, tears rolling down again.  "Why can't you just come home?"

The tears tore at him inside like knives.  "I…"  I want to, Ran, I want to stay more than anything, but I can't…!!

His insufferable half-life as Edogawa Conan surfaced to his mind again, and he shuddered, twin tears finally leaking out of his eyes to leave two streaks on his face, his mouth automatically babbling false lies of comfort on its own accord.

"I…I'll come back, I think…I don't think I'll be gone too long…"  Which was a complete lie, of course, he knew very well that his already-slim chance of ever becoming Shinichi again permanently had all but disappeared completely, but he couldn't stand to see her cry.

And in truth, it wasn't a complete lie…

I'll come back, Ran, I promise…one of these days it'll be too much, and I really will just give up and come home…

He turned back toward his desk so she couldn't see his tears, but he couldn't hide his anguish—the rough gasps of his breathing was more than enough to show.  Forcibly yanking open his drawer, he selected a small object and lifted it from the rest of the contents, gripping his hands around it before turning back to her, awkwardly sitting down on the bed beside her.  Reaching out to grab one of her trembling hands, he placed the tiny object in her hand and closed her fingers over it.

"Here, Ran," he said hoarsely.  "I…I don't have anything better than this to give you, and I won't be here for your birthday next week…so…

"Happy early birthday, Ran."

When you think of me, remember the way that I use to be.

Remember the times I held you, tenderly.

Remember the way that I love you.

Ran opened her trembling hand to see what it was…and stared at the metal shell in her hands, her tears temporarily forgotten as she gaped in wide-eyed shock at the old bullet cartridge in her hands, the messy scratches on the side and the world was reeling, spinning, throwing her off-balance and into a tornado of fear and confusion and dread…

She could remember so clearly…the bright sparkle in those blue eyes that she could easily picture, even through the phone; the excited glee when he had phoned her from Hawaii…it was another one of those family trips to America, though Ran didn't go with them that time.  In the last minute of wakefulness while desperately trying to study for a math test, Shinichi had phoned her long-distance to proudly inform her with almost childish excitement that he had outshot his father at the shooting range.  He had told her that he had saved the cartridge and scratched the date onto the side—he had shown her when he got back, even insisting to mount the prized shell on the mantle over the fireplace until Kudo Yukiko told her son that he was being silly and the oversized plaque was taking up too much room.  But Ran knew he loved that thing, and had kept it ever since, being one of his most prized possessions even as Yuusaku shook his head and commented how Yukiko was spoiling him.

And now, he was giving it away…to her?

At Ran's disbelieving stare, Shinichi winced and looked away, unable to look her in the eye.  It was incredibly selfish of him, he knew—but he couldn't help it.  He was trying to make her forget him, for God's sake—but he knew she could no more forget him than he could her.

He just hoped that giving her something to remember him by was the right thing…

There was a silence, thick and uncomfortable, filled with awkward not-promises and broken half-hopes.  And in the midst of it, shuddering, Ran stared at him with wide eyes, even as something inside her shattered…

Hope…

She clutched his gift tight in her hands, close to her chest; her eyes sparkled not with joy but with apprehension and dismay, as the realization that this was a farewell gift sank sharply into her heart.  Tears immediately blurred her eyes as agony tore through her—terror that he was leaving, really leaving, never coming back…

Something in her knew, despite his assertion to the contrary; this was it, this was the last time, this was goodbye

She had to hold on to him—it was instinctive and involuntary and she never stopped to think before her arms were around him, the gift landing on the floor as she clung to him, her words jumbled and broken by her sobs.

"…don't go, please don't go, Shinichi, don't leave me, I'll die if you do…!"

And he was holding her, too—could help it no more than she could.  His last attempts at composure had shattered right along with her hopes as his tears finally poured out with hers, his own voice like a lost child's as he spoke into her hair.

"…I want to stay—I swear to God I would, if only I could—Ran, I promise you…!"

His last attempts at self-control had been torn away by her flood of tears, and he found himself crying with her, raging helplessly at the unfairness of it all—of how he had to go back to his prison, back to being there with her but never really there, back to all that unholy hell of fear and hiding after he had finally tasted his real life for the last time

Kudo Shinichi was going to die tonight, forever this time.  And there was no going back.

And when you think of me, remember the way that I used to be.

Remember the times I held you, tenderly.

Remember the way that I love you…

Ran, however, believed otherwise, grasping at the barest of hopes as she clung onto him tightly, trying to hold him for as long as she possibly could.  She still believed, somehow, that she could make him stay.  Her mind could not accept the idea of him going away forever.  Her heart felt as though it would stop—she really would die if he left.

Neither of them were expecting the kiss when it happened, but they did not resist it when it did.  It was born of all her longed-for promises, all his broken dreams—filled with every bit of her still-living hope and his all-consuming hopelessness.

The kiss of desperation and yearning grew deeper, longer, pulling both of them in like a well of endless gravity.  It became the center of their universe, all extraneous things forgotten; they became two bodies in orbit, circling closer and closer as the pull drew them in.  They were moving in perfect tandem to a song only they could hear, thundering to the rhythm of two hearts beating in time…

Finally they pulled away from each other, eyes wide and panting, both shocked at the turn their goodbye had taken.  A fierce blush stained both their cheeks, and Ran touched one hand hesitantly to her face.  "S-Shinichi…?"

"I…"  His senses reeling and synapses seemingly fused together; for once Kudo Shinichi hadn't a clue what to say.  "I…I…"

Her face flaming now, Ran looked up at him, something scared about her eyes yet something determined as well.  There was a familiar fire in her gaze as her eyes flashed; her jaw set and her shoulders squared, and then she suddenly reached up and kissed him again.

Before she did…Shinichi could've sworn he heard her whisper, "I love you."

But before he had a chance to contemplate that, her lips were against his own again—only it was different than the first time; harder, assertive, almost demanding, fuelled by her desperation and anger that so desperately needed release.  And he found himself respond in kind, all semblance of self-control gone, caught up in the tide of his own misery and desperation—all his hopes, dashed; all his dreams, shattered…

All save for this one last night.

As Shinichi tightened his hold on her, pulling her close to him with a swell of emotion inside his chest that he had never felt before, he wished with every fibre his being at everything possible that this moment would never stop, that time would never go on, that he would never have to let go…

And that Conan would never, ever return.

When you think of me, remember the way that I used to be.

Remember the times I held you, tenderly.

Remember the way that I love you.

~*~*~*~*~

Dawn.

Some indefinable amount of time later, Shinichi woke up to a gummy taste of overnight tooth-unbrushing and dull throb in his limbs.  Pain, simmering beneath the surface just out of reach—pain, in that it had begun to End.

It was over.  His last day of freedom, last night of happiness, his last taste of life was over.

Over…

Just the thought of it was like a death warrant, sending him sinking back onto the bed with a wretched, muffled sob.

It was over.  It was utterly, completely over.  The drug had run its course and was now signalling him to turn back, to run away like the coward he was, and to disappear back into the night and the shadows where Conan had been born.

A warm breath tickled his hand; he turned to look at the sleeping angel beside him and his heart gave another sharp twist—she was so close, so close, he could reach over and just touch her—!

But no—he couldn't.  Not without waking her up.  Not without making this harder than it already was.

He got dressed and ready to leave, every step making his heart die just a little more.  He gritted his teeth against the pain, against the world, against the heartache and the drug until the whole world was just one whole ache that hurt so much he couldn't tell where one agony ends and another began…

But he did it—he had to.  His time was slipping by like sand in an hourglass, and there was no way to make them come back.  He knew that when he swallowed the last pill.

It was Over.

Hands gripping the wall for support, he tiptoed toward the door, knowing that it was The End but his heart still not really believing it, still hoping for some sort of miracle…

A very sleepy voice, blurred with weariness, spoke up from the bed.  "Shin…ichi?  Where'ya going…?

He froze, turning around sharply to gaze into Mouri Ran's sleep-filled blue eyes watching him, though behind the weariness was a curiosity and a cold, distant fear.  "Ran?"

"You're not leavin'…are you…?"  Even in sleep, she sounded scared.

He was somehow by her side in an instant as she was speaking, without the faintest memory of ever having moved, but he supposed that didn't matter now.  He held her hand in his own and caressed it gently, marvelling again at the feel of her warmth on his skin…

"I'm right here Ran…shh…go back to sleep, 'kay?"  With a hard swallow at the lump in his throat he whispered, "I'm right here…no matter what happens, I'll always be right here…"

She nodded sleepily, her eyelids fluttering closed.  "'Kay…love you, Shinichi…"

He waited again with bated breath until her breathing had evened out before he dared move again, straightening against the ache in his bones to just be there and looking at her; with her soft brown hair framing her heart-shaped face and long lashes hiding those blue, blue eyes as they rested against her pale cheeks …she really was an angel.

His angel.

His Ran.

A sudden spasm of pain made him grunt, falling against the wall with a soft thud—and he knew it was time.  Blinking back the tears that had suddenly sprung up, he tucked the covers tighter around her and bent over one last time, running his hand over her face gently, before kissing her one last time on the forehead.

"Sayonara…I love you Ran."

But you might be better if I'm gone…

And with that he left, running away, out the door and into the starlit streets—running far, far away from her, out of her life forever, tears spilling down his face and trying not to look back.

A long distance away, the clock tower tolled the beginning moments of dawn.

Oh, when you think of me, when you think of me

When you think of me, when you think of me…

****************************************

Epilogue

Stormy grey clouds hung low, ominously foreboding, over the heads of the skyscrapers as thunder rumbled in the distance and lightning flashed angrily.  Gales of chilling wind howled woefully at the people as it scattered crowds left and right and pedestrians dodged and weaved through the traffic in a futile attempt to avoid the fat raindrops hailing down at them.  Even for those who were fortunate enough to have umbrellas fared no better against the dampening of their spirits at the impending storm.

Shivering in her soaking wet school uniform and muddy bag—thanks to that driver who'd had the good grace to swerve into a puddle and spray it all over her—and her umbrella in tow, Mouri Ran reflected that if the sky were capable of portraying her feelings today, it could not have done a better job.

Unconsciously, her hand went to her trim abdomen, rubbing it furtively in half-hopes of feeling the new life there.  There were mixed emotions fighting inside her; some part of her was delighted at the miraculous gift that one moment of selfish weakness had bequeathed her, another part was disgusted how she could let herself get so weakened by her heart to involve an innocent life in the turmoil.  There was nothing lucky about her situation, really, there wasn't…

She had vaguely, for one crazy, crazy moment thought about abortion—really, wouldn't it be sparing everyone?  No one would ever know—not even Shinichi, that sweet, perceptive bastard that she somehow loved—and it would spare herself and her unborn child the tortures of not having his father with him when he gets born.

Of course, that was ridiculous—it was her fault and Shinichi's that this child was created, but regardless of whose fault it was, the merge of souls that night had created a life, and everything was his parents' fault, not his—he shouldn't have to pay the price for his parents' misdeeds.

Even if he might be somehow happier that way…

There were tears coming down her face, tears that she hadn't even noticed until she realized the mingle of water on her face wasn't from the rain.  Sniffling, she wiped back her tears and resumed walking home, vaguely aware that her thoughts had made her more than an hour late already.

She had told the nurse at that crisis pregnancy clinic that she intended to keep this child, and the woman had smiled at her—a sad, sympathetic smile—and wished her the best of luck, as well as given her her number to let her call whenever she wanted, just to hear a friendly ear.  And Ran appreciated that—really, she did…

Only she wished that the comforting shoulder to cry on belonged to a certain smart-assed Great Detective of the East.

~*~*~*~*~

Something was wrong.

Mouri Kogoro could feel it in every bone of his body; that annoying tingle of his nerves that was always tantalizingly out of his reach, the one that only happens when he knew something was off, something was different, something wasn't as it should be. 

…and of course, the fact that his estranged wife was here on his only daughter's request might have contributed to that wonderful deduction, as well.

He met his wife's gaze for a moment before looking away again, but he could read it in her eyes (he hadn't been a cop for nothing, thank you very much): yeah, she knew something was wrong too.  It was written on every (invisible) line of her face (You're not getting any younger yourself, are you, Kogoro? his mind muttered at him wryly), the way her lips thinned as she set her jaw, that definite square to her shoulders…

Oh yes, something was very, very wrong.

In front of their expectant gazes, Ran was fidgeting, clenching the bullet shell Shinichi had given her on their Last Night—for good luck or for comfort or just as a substitute to strangling the life out of his person for making her go through this alone, she wasn't sure.  There was always something comforting about his presence, something that was calming and relaxing yet always so definite and precise at the same time, something that always achingly reminded her of how much she loved him…

Something that she desperately wished she had with her right now.

Her father was grunting something under his breath, chewing on his lip as if he wanted a cigarette, and her mother was fixing her with one of those laser-keen stares that usually only graced a courtroom or witness that she wished to interrogate.  Never on her, never before.

But there was a first time for everything.

Taking a deep breath, Ran opened her mouth—praying, even though she knew that it was utterly ridiculous, that Shinichi would just barge through the door right now and save her from the loneliness, to come and hold her and say the news with her.

And the instant she opened it, all semblance of thought disappeared, torn away by her fear and loneliness and desperation to just tell someone, something that ate away at all her defences until her tears flooded them like a rickety dam, baring her vulnerabilities to the world as she blurted the first thing that came to her mind.

"Okaasan…Otousan…I'm pregnant."

If this had been any other moment where laughing was even minimally acceptable, Conan reflected at that moment, then the most comical thing in the world would have to be Mouri Kogoro and Kisaki Eri's faces.  Both had suddenly lost their respective annoyed and speculative looks and were fairly goggling at their daughter; Eri's glasses had fallen nearly off her nose and Kogoro's mouth was open so wide that you would've been able to fit a watermelon in.  If this had been any other moment where laughing was not so outlawed, Edogawa Conan, formerly Kudo Shinichi, would've laughed his head off.

But he was having a hard time trying not to fall apart right then.  His world, or what little was left of it, had been broken yet again—and this time, he had no one to blame but himself.

He'd known something was wrong since yesterday— regardless of his size, the detective in him never slept, and when Ran had wandered in yesterday more than three hours late from her typical coming-back-from-school time, it was more than enough reason to cause him a little concern.  Especially since she sported this scared, lonely look and how she trembled whenever she was alone and still for more than a minute to remember whatever was on her mind…  He knew, instinctively, that something was wrong.

And his guilt tripled when he concluded that he was at the bottom of it—not a hard deduction, as he was the only one that ever caused Ran that much misery.  He tried his best to cheer his Ran-neechan up, but Conan-kun could only do so much…no, it was a very different him Ran wanted to see.

But Kudo Shinichi was dead…and never, ever coming back.

Something was wrong, he knew, but he had never in his right or left mind imagined the Big News was something like this.  It—it just wasn't possible!

For one insane moment he desperately hoped that he was hearing things—that Genta and Mitsuhiko's bickering had caused his ears to malfunction, that Ayumi's chatter had caused his synapses to fuse—anything, anything but—but that…!

Some part of him that wasn't completely floored by the news was vaguely aware of Kogoro's shouts, no longer his typical growling rumble but an all out roar of fury and outrage, nearly drowning out Eri's sharp exclamations of horror and Ran's involuntary sobs as she tried to explain that she didn't mean to through all the lonely tears as her control finally fell apart.  Some part of him was still aware of Genta yelling at him from the back door, telling Conan-kun to hurry up and why was his bathroom break was taking so long—some part of him was still aware of all that…

…but all that was cloaked by his horror, his disbelief, his utter denial at the truth that stole his breath and the last of his hopes away.  Some part of him—the part that was Kudo Shinichi hidden underneath all his masks and disguises and layers of lies—was screaming; screaming at the mistake, screaming what the one moment of weakness had made him do…

It wasn't supposed to happen like this! he railed against the uncaring world.  It wasn't!!  It wasn't!!

Not…like this…!

Some part of his inward cries must have come out, because he distinctly heard a small, choked sob different from the rest burst out from his too-small lungs; despite the lack of volume, it somehow carried over the Ran's sobs and the demands of her parents.  It was a broken sound, bitter and tortured, of the pain and agony that he carried and now—however unwillingly—gave to her…

There was a sudden silence, a pronounced hush that fell over them like a thick blanket; a rolling fog of horror and love and pain that swept over them all.  Kogoro and Eri had fallen silent, finally noticing the little boy and realizing they've said a tad too much in the presence of a minor.  And Ran…Ran had turned around at the choked sob piercing the silence to find its source: a wide-eyed, horror-filled nine-year-old gaping at her, eyes tearing and small frame so tense she could've sworn it would snap…

"C-Conan-kun?"  For his sake, she tried to marshal her senses again and wiped away her tears, putting on a bright Ran-neechan smile—even though the only thing she felt like doing was curling up into a ball and sob.  "What're you doing here?  Aren't you supposed to be playing with Genta-kun and the others outside?"  At his silence, her false smile slipped, and trepidation faltered her voice and made it hesitant with concern.  "Conan-kun…did you…hear us…?"

He tried to speak, but his vocal cords weren't working.  After a few stiff tries he finally made them open, if only a tad; if only to croak out one name filled with unchildish horror.

"R-R-Ran-neechan…?"

"Oh…"  Her own eyes tearing, Ran bent over and gave the little boy a tight hug, noticing how stiff and tense he was in her grasp as she buried her face in his hair—hair so like Shinichi's, and his face too…it was like seeing the detective's shadow in this boy, and she didn't know whether that made it better or worse.  "You…you weren't supposed to hear that, Conan-kun…"

"I…"  He was shaking again; Ran could feel every tremor.  And he just stared up at her with wide, shocked eyes, ones so like Shinichi's it almost made her cry…

Forcing out a faint smile, Ran hugged him tight again, and she could hear her mother sniff slightly in the background.  "It's alright, Conan-kun…really.  I'll be fine…"

And with those words and an almost audible crack, the last shred of hope inside of him shattered

When you think of me, remember the way that I used to be.

Remember the times I held you, tenderly.

Remember the way that I love you…

There was always something about a starry night, as cliché as it was—something about the way the speckled sequins sparkled on the heavenly canvas, the way that the beauty of glowing balls of cosmic gas made them seem more than they were.  Even way back in who-knows-when, stars were seen as good luck—wishing upon star showers, shooting stars…

But wishes don't come true, Conan reflected to himself as he made his way upstairs.  If they did, I'd have been Shinichi again a long time ago…

It was over—in more ways than one; more "over" that it was on his Last Day.  The long day was finally over…yet it was only the first in many.

It wouldn't be over for another seven months.  And maybe not even then.

Because then the child…he or she would have to grow up without a father, without his second parent, without the other half of his parental guidance that all children should be allowed to grow up with.  Because Ran would never stop waiting for him until one of them died…because he'd have to watch the child grow up always wondering where Touchan was…

Because it won't be over until—until he can finally come home

The door to Ran's room was closed, like he expected.  After what she had just been through (alone, the guilty part of him hissed at himself), it would be flat-out bizarre if she didn't want some time to herself.

But she shouldn't have to be alone, he raged at himself silently as he curled up against the wall by her door in his school clothes, completely ignoring how uncomfortable and inflexible denim clothing was in his misery.  I should've been there…!

Damn those black bastards for choosing That Day to be at Tropical Land…!!

There was a muted sob beside him, coming from behind the door and piercing the background din of his own miserable thoughts and the loud whisper-shouting-match from Kogoro and Eri downstairs.  Almost immediately he reached for the door—but stopped, hesitating, and then resumed his seat by the wall.

He couldn't help her—not Conan-kun.  Not the smart-assed little boy that had a knack of getting himself in and out of trouble as readily as his older self.  Not the mysterious child that Ran had taken in as her little brother.  She needed him—the real him…

She needed Shinichi, dammit, not Conan-kun—and he couldn't be Shinichi…not for her, not for himself, not for anyone ever again.

But he'd be here, no matter what form—whether she knew it or not, he was already there, and would be always.  He couldn't be with her physically, not in the way she wanted, but he would always be with her, one way or another.  Always watching over her, a silent vigil outside her door.  He would be with her every step of the way, as long as it took…

When you think of me…

There was another sigh through the door, and something that sounded like a sob.  Raising himself to his knees and peering through a crack in the door, he could see her looking out the window, one hand on her stomach in an unconscious effort to feel the new life there.  Even from his distance he could see the brimming tears there—or maybe it was because he was trying not to cry himself.

"Where are you, Shinichi?"

Remember the way that I used to be…

He turned back around, the most minute of sobs finally piercing his armoured composure and reducing him to the heartbroken young man he was.  Glasses abandoned somewhere that he didn't care for, he buried his head in his arms, shuddering with pent-up sobs.

Remember the times I held you, tenderly…

I'm right here, Ran—whether you know it or not, I'll always be right here…

Remember the way that I love you…

Ran…

Owari